Too claustrophobic for the pyramids?
March 11, 2007 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Have you been in the pyramids at Giza? Am I too claustrophobic to do this?

I'm spending a couple of days in Cairo this week and will be visiting the pyramids. I've heard that actually going in them can be quite claustrophobic and was wondering if any Mefites have firsthand experience of such a visit. I'm not uncomfortable in small spaces, but am one of those people who has to sit at the front of airplane cabins because seeing a sea of heads in front of me while inside a small space makes me queasy. Anything else I should be aware of?

Bonus: I'm really looking forward to shopping in the Khan el-Khalili. Any tips?
posted by meerkatty to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You also need (and they'll tell you this) to not have a bad back, bad knees, etc. It's the crawling into the pyramid that raises these - and the claustrophobia - concerns. You crawl in this small, angled tunnel, single-file. You do this ducked, not on your belly or anything, but it's not high enough to stand up straight.

Now, I don't have any of these problems, so it was no trouble for me. Once you're inside the pyramid, you're just in this small empty room. All of the goodies that once were there are now in the Egyptian Museum. So, really, if the claustrophobia concerns you, you aren't missing a whole lot not going in, except the ability to feel cool by saying, "I've been inside the Pyramids."
posted by bozichsl at 11:12 AM on March 11, 2007

Well, I've been inside the pyramids in the months of July and December. It was really quite crowded in July and practically deserted in December. I suspect the level of busy-ness will be somewhere in between in March. I didn't feel claustrophobic, but it *can* be a bit stuffy inside and overly cosy if you're climbing up or down steep ramps with people squished in all around you... Perhaps before you go in, you can check with the guards to see how busy it is inside. The earlier in the morning you go, the less busy it will be. Sadly they don't allow you to take photos in there anymore. Still, I'd definitely say it's worth it.

Khan el-Khalili is pretty crazy and tourists are always mobbed by the shopkeepers. If they keep pressing you to look at or buy things you don't want to, just say "la shukran" or " no thank you", forcefully and repeatedly! And brush up on your bargaining skills- you can almost always get things for the less than half the price you're offered! It's a total maze of shops in there. Have fun!
posted by Kirjava at 11:13 AM on March 11, 2007

I visited about 6 years ago and, yes, it can be a little 'compact' in the pyramid passages, with a few low ceilings and stooping down but it's a fairly and opens out considerably in the burial chamber. You'll be fine. If it's any consolation the burial chambers are very plain and there's not a great deal to see in terms of decoration (unlike the Valley of Kings say).

A trip to Saqqara is also worthwhile to see the world's oldest intact 'step' pyramids built for King Djoser by Imhotep (it's also less overtly touristy). Whatever enjoy, insha'allah!
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 11:20 AM on March 11, 2007

I'm not what I'd call claustrophobic but as soon as I got in, I wanted to get out again. There's nothing in there. It's a tiny room at the top of a shaft which is too short to stand up in.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:55 AM on March 11, 2007

I was there in late April 2006. I made it to the first chamber, turned around and rushed out. I was the only person to do so. I figured that there's no art down there anyhow, so why not leave it to the dead people and the other sweaty tourists.

Here's why I decided I couldn't go on...
a) There was a steady stream of sweaty tourists in front of and crowding behind me going down the little tunnel.
b) It was the only way up, so sweaty tourists were pushing their way up the other direction in that little tunnel too.
c) I have a bad lower back and the tunnel is like 5' high. I am 5'8. Crouching is not comfortable for my spine, especially not when surrounded by sweaty tourists.
d) My left foot was broken at the time. They have wooden slats across the ground on the incline you are walking to keep your traction. But stepping on them was twisting my injured foot & that wasn't comfortable. Especially while crouching with a bad back & being surrounded by sweaty tourists.
e) I suddenly realized that not only was I walking on a broken foot, with a bad back, and surrounded by sweaty tourists, I was going deep into the ground underneath a solid rock pyramid that was ginormous. And heavy... and... it was a little tiny tunnel... uhhhhh...
f) The air started to feel... ummm... like it was disappearing.

So, obviously it was not my thing. I felt like seeing the pyramids was enough. Plus I got a kickass photo of me on a super cool camel named Moses. (Wanna see?) But all of that said, I'm going back to Egypt later this year with a friend and I WILL TRY AGAIN. This time I won't have a broken foot and there will be fewer sweaty tourists. Plus I'll have my friend with me to talk me through it. So, I think I'll make it this time. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 12:02 PM on March 11, 2007

Moral of the story I just wrote? Go to the pyramids. Give it a shot. If you don't like it, you can turn around & come back up.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:02 PM on March 11, 2007

I'm somewhat claustrophobic, but managed to do it without having a huge panic attack. There were points, though, where I was not very happy to be in there and really wanted to leave. And when we finally got to the burial chamber, it was very anticlimactic. (What do you mean, that's all? It's just an empty room.) I was there in February & there was a constant line of people both coming & going in the tunnel.

In general, I'm glad I did it, but only because it's cool to tell people I went to the heart of the great pyramid.
posted by belladonna at 12:05 PM on March 11, 2007

Oh, and one other thing... at Khan el-Khalili you MUST stop at al Fishawy for a mint tea or shisha. It's been there almost 250 years and it's a big part of local culture to this day. Totally cool experience to just sit there & hang out.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:07 PM on March 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, figure out if you want to go to the Great Pyramid or the Lesser Pyramid. Sometimes the Great Pyramid is closed (they're still finding stuff in it, apparently), but when it's open they charge extra to enter it. Since I obviously wasn't sure if I would make all the way inside any of them, I didn't pay the extra fee. What is inside is basically the same, it's just that you get to say you were inside the Great one if you pay more.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:10 PM on March 11, 2007

i'm mildly claustrophobic, but i didn't want to "miss out" on going inside one of the pyramids at giza.

i left my backpack with a friend outside the lesser pyramid, and headed into the tunnel. i realised pretty quickly that this experience was not going to be pleasant for me, but with a steady stream of tourists in front of me and behind me, i felt i had little choice but to proceed. fortunately, the random tourist behind me clued in pretty quick that i was having issues, and spoke soothingly to me as we moved along

i made it to the burial chamber, and quickly turned around and scurried back up the tunnel and out into the light as quickly as possible.

i'm 5' 10", female and this was in march of 2000, if that information makes any difference.
posted by netsirk at 12:33 PM on March 11, 2007


Miss lynnster, that camel pic is both awesome and makes me want to visit Egypt.

On topic:

Give it a shot. They're not about to collapse on you and hell, even if they did, what a badass way to die, right? Deep breaths, and remember you can always turn back.
posted by disillusioned at 1:41 PM on March 11, 2007

I was there a few months ago and going inside the pyramid kinda made me freak out. It wasn't that crowded, but the air was thin enough to remind me I was in a TOMB in the midst of countless tons of rock. I didn't want to stay in there long. As others have said, there's nothing in there but an empty sarcophagus and a security camera. And you're sharing the only, narrow, tunnel out with people coming in.

On the other hand, I got to go INSIDE the PYRAMID. So it was cool and scary at the same time.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 4:09 PM on March 11, 2007

Most of what's been said above is right on the money. The Giza pyramids are no place for claustrophobics.

When I was there though, after being thoroughly disappointed with the overcrowded and uninteresting Giza pyramids, was to hire a taxi and drive an hour or so south to the Dashur ones. They're equally impressive, but they're absolutely empty. Even if you don't go inside, it's worth it because you get the 'I'm standing in the desert and here are two pyramids right in front of me' feeling that is ruined at Giza by the tour busses and highways all around.

From what I remember (I was there July 2003) if you want to go inside, there's a ~30 m long passage, fairly narrow, that requires a bit of stooping as you walk along.
posted by twirlypen at 4:44 PM on March 11, 2007

Response by poster: Awesome answers. Thank you so much!
posted by meerkatty at 4:52 PM on March 11, 2007

Nobody said crawling, I don't think. I used the word "crouching" because I had to stoop over considerably to avoid hitting my head. The tunnels just aren't tall enough for many people to stand upright. For some shorter people, it's not an issue at all though. There was a tiny old lady in front of me who was having the time of her life, she was the perfect size to walk through it without bending at all. It was like the pyramid tunnel was MADE for her & she thought it was hysterical that everyone else had to be so uncomfortable.

And disillusioned? You SHOULD go!
posted by miss lynnster at 4:56 PM on March 11, 2007

And by the way, this was the line to get in...
posted by miss lynnster at 5:00 PM on March 11, 2007

I had apprehensions about the potential steepness and my own lower back problems. Also, my charming travel companion is extremely claustrophobic. may never get the chance again and it is a very cool experience and came very close for me to what Spaulding Gray would call a "perfect moment." Khufu was closed so we went in Khefren, and had to pay to enter. Neither of us had any problem, it was wonderful and I'll never forget the ancient gentleman intoning portentiously "Mumia! Khefren! Mumia!" in the ultimate chamber. I've decided that I want someone to sneak my ashes in there after I die.

A tip that worked for me: I went down the low shaft backwards, like a ladder. Pay the money, go inside and see if you want to proceed.

miss lynster, we had the same camel! I first thought that they might name them all Moses, but the saddle and bridle (Is it a bridle with a ruminant?) look the same.
posted by Morrigan at 7:19 PM on March 11, 2007

NO WAY!!! That's so funny! He was really great for me, didn't spit or anything. How about for you?

Derail: When I was in Cappadocia, I showed my Turkish guide the picture of me on Moses and he got a really frowny face. He said, "Moses is the name for a prophet, not for a CAMEL." He didn't like that AT ALL.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:48 PM on March 11, 2007

Just to add another voice to the 'give it a try' crowd. We went inside the Great Pyramid and I don't recall it being too scary. Yes, it's a cramped and uncomfortable, but you're inside the Great Pyramid for goodness sake. And that has to be cool.

My advice would be to find out when they open and aim to be there first thing. We went very early in the day and, for a moment at least, had the burial chamber all to ourselves. Which was kind of freaky.
posted by MrMustard at 5:06 AM on March 12, 2007

miss lynnster: He was great with me too. I think he may have been sweet on one of the other camels.
posted by Morrigan at 6:41 AM on March 12, 2007

I can't remember the names, but one of the smaller pyramids is free to enter and should give you an idea of what it's like to enter one of those things. That way you can make up your mind before shelling out the big bucks (in this case, 50LE I think) for the main pyramid.

Also, Khan el-Kalili is neat but probably oversold. If you have more time in Cairo seek out one of the more far-out but local-frequented markets. I don't know what any of them are in Cairo but when I was in Alexandria I had a great time going to local markets. They're often a bit surprised to see foreigners there so they forget to charge you 10 times as much as everyone else.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:37 AM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

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